Thursday, December 31, 2009

VECKATIMEST - Grizzly Bear (2009)

All one really needs to know about the level of ambition present on Grizzly Bear's chamber pop masterpiece Veckatimest is made abundantly clear one minute into album opener Southern Point.  For those first sixty seconds, Grizzly Bear lays down what seems certain to become the folk-rock song of the unbelievably cool, late-night acoustic groove tied to an awesome melodic vocal that gets even better when killer backing vocals kick in at around forty seconds. But then, at that one minute mark, just as you think the song is going to rise up in a huge, harmonic chorus, it instead shifts abruptly into an adventurous four minute prog-rock excursion utterly disconnected from that amazing opening, never to return.  

And even though those final four minutes can feel like a bit of a letdown (though exciting on their own, they're not near as good as that stunning opening), they demonstrate Grizzly Bear's courageous willingness to kill their darlings midstream in the search of something even better, and it's this unwavering fearlessness that makes Veckatimest, at least for me, the best album of 2009.

Sometimes you go with consistency, sometimes you go with high points.  Veckatimest definitely falls into the second category. 

It's not nearly as consistent as other top 2009 albums like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion , The Flaming Lips' Embryonic or The Xx's self-titled debut, but where each of those albums basically takes one great approach and rides it out through minor variations for the duration, Veckatimest is a non-stop parade of daring change-ups and unexpected instrumental juxtapositions...there's dozens of new ideas at play here, they don't all work, but several do, at the highest possible level.  

In a very real sense, you could call Veckatimest the OK Computer of harmonically driven chamber pop's often that inventive.

Moments of brilliance abound.  From Southern Point's aforementioned opening to the soaring Beach Boy harmonies of breakthrough single Two Weeks, through Cheerleader's pitch perfect design and Ed Droste's massive emotive climax in Ready, Able, to the odd, enthralling rhythm guitar work of About Face and the monstrous huge final minute of Daniel Rossen's While You Wait For The Others, Veckatimest is that type of record that's constantly swinging for the fences and always challenging itself.

It's not an album for everyone...there's a definite wimp factor at play whenever male-led bands go all out for moments of beauty, as Grizzly Bear does here in spades, and the band's idiosyncratic, herky-jerky rhythms can take some getting used to...but overall all, if you're up for checking out the most recklessly daring album of the year, even though it's a mellow, artsy one, Veckatimest is the album for you.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Here's that very creepy official video for Two Weeks.

Component Breakdown:
2. Two Weeks - 10
3. All We Ask - 7
5. Cheerleader - 10
6. Dory - 5
8. About Face - 9
9. Hold Still - 6
Intangibles - High.

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What did you think of Veckatimest? Let readers know in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Daily Listenings 09-23-2009

Hey all,

Been away for awhile, work crazy, but finally getting a bead on some of 2009's top releases.

For my money going into the fourth quarter, Grizzly Bear's Veckitamist is the album to beat, and the year's one minor masterpiece. I anticipate Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion will top the majority of year end polls (unless Raekwon continues to build momentum), and I have it ranked second on the year, but Grizzly Bear is just a superior grower...sounds better after every listen, and I'm deep into double digits now.

Other 2009s that continue to intrique are limited, Morrisey's Years of Refusal has continued to grow on me, Bill Callahan's track All Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast is the year's standout folk track, and I think the best songs on Antony and the Johnson's The Crying Light are amazing...but that's about it for me for solid or strong recommends at present.

Looking forward to picking up The XX, Japandroids, Manic Street Preachers, Pearl Jam, Raekwon, The Antlers, and Soulsaver in near future.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Coachella 2009 Review - Sunday Day Three

For veterans of this decade’s mega-fests, you know that by day three, you’re pretty wiped.

We all got up relatively early, but for my less hardcore travel companions, after two days of non-stop music, the charms of our hotel pool in the morning Palm Springs sun outweighed the chance to catch the number of big buzz lo-fi punk acts that would dominate Sunday’s early afternoon line-up. So I headed off alone.

My Best Shows of the Day
1) Okkervil River
2) My Bloody Valentine
3) Public Enemy
4) X
5) Lykke Li/The Night Marchers

My Weakest Shows of Day
1) Murder City Devils (least favorite show of entire fest)
2) Vivian Girls

Got through security by 12:30, grabbed a couple of waters, and headed straight for…

Vivian Girls

In what felt like a first for the festival, a venue other than the Sahara (which has always been a self-contained electronic dance festival within the larger festival) was given a clear theme for the day…punk. From lo-fi contemporary darlings Vivian Girls, No Age, and the Kills, to psychedelic nut job Brian Jonestown Massacre, to the glammish Horrors, hardcore practitioners Murder City Devils and Fucked Up, and seminal influences X and Throbbing Gristle, this stage on this day was a punk rock smorgasbord.

Vivian Girls started off the day, and in full disclosure, I have their debut, which landed on a ton of top 50 lists in 2008, and I hate it. Ditto for No Age’s Nouns, the highly praised album by the band to come next..

Both acts, along with contemporaries Abe Vigoda (who seem a given to play the fest next year), crank out arty versions of punk defined less by the songs than a ideological/creative commitment to god-awful lo-fi mixes.

Personally, I think no-fi is the better description, because these recordings are so muddy, it’s often impossible to enjoy their sometimes fine songs on anything other than an intellectual level. Think Sonic Youth/Husker Du/Mission of Burma at their harshest, downgrade the audio quality another five or six notches, and that’s what you get with these bands.

Still, I wanted to check these girls and No Age out today, in the hopes that live it wasn’t as hard to appreciate them.

Alas, there was absolutely no difference.

Their simple girl group rockabilly tunes sounded every bit as murky and tuneless live as they do on record. I came away feeling like I was watching the luckiest art school coffee shop band in the world.
I stuck it out for twenty-five minutes, then grown bored of watching a drummer with chops my eleven year old can top, headed over to catch…

Mexican Institute of Sound

A young, Mexican rap band, they had a really cool fusion going, mixing fairly standard rap flows to beats flavored by their own cultural music. A thoroughly entertaining and energetic set.

No Age

Back to the Mojave.

To these guy’s credit, they had a lot more going on than Vivian Girls. For one, they are punks by choice, rather than the necessity of musical limitation; they can really play. Two, they were intensely into their set, and didn’t sound quite as murky.

But the killer here is their drummer/lead singer’s voice.

It’s awful, and not in a good-bad way like so many great bad singers of the past like Dylan or Lou Reed or Neil Young, but just bad… whiny and tuneless.

So while the tent was packed, and the crowd was loving it, I still couldn’t enjoy and headed back to Outdoor Theater for…

The Night Marchers

…and rockabilly punk like it is more traditionally done.

I know nothing about these guys, and apparently, no one else does either, as this was the least attended set I caught the entire festival (though not nearly as bad as the Akron/Family – Black Mountain scheduling pimps of 2008), but these guys were great.

They seemed to be an older band that’s done a lot of rounds. The lead singer was affably charismatic and conveyed an athletic, slightly surfer-oriented vibe, but was no spring chicken, looked to be pushing forty. But that extra experience paid off, because their closing number was an absolute knock-out.

Wish more people had caught this one.

Okkervil River

Next it was over to the main stage, where I got up within twenty feet for one of my favorite bands of the decade.

For those not familiar with Okkervil River, they’re a highly adventurous, unpredictable alt-country band. Comparisons to Wilco…in terms of genre, high average quality of material, and sheer experimental courage…are apt, but where Wilco, following Jeff Tweedy’s lead, is often subtle and takes time to process, Okkervil are far more immediate and emotionally explosive.

Much of this springs from lead singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s amazing voice. An odd voice for alt-country, it sounds like a bastard blend of the texture/feel of the Cure’s Robert Smith and the emotional histrionics of a Levi Stubbs(Four Tops) or Mark Eitzel (American Music Club).

For some, his voice is a deal breaker, but I love it. Sheff delivers a level of emotional investment few other performers can pull off, and as a songwriter/band leader, Sheff is the consummate home run hitter, not always nailing it, but always swinging for the fences.

As such, the band’s best material, album to album, is beyond great.

So what do you get when a band with this kind of material but not much of a national following is given just fifty minutes to make their case?


Plus One, Pop Lies, Black, A Girl in Port, John Smythee Sails, For Real, Lost Coastlines, Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe, Unless It Kicks…this was a no-holds barred set designed for maximum audience expansion. Every song came off well, but nothing on this day matched A Girl in Port…which perfectly utilized Sheff’s talent for heightened emotional drama and was easily the best ballad performance I heard all weekend, topping even Blitzen Trapper’s Black River Killer, Lykke Li’s Tonight, and McCartney’s armada of beloved Beatle’s classics.

Just a phenomenal set, second best only to McCartney…you know things are going right when your lead sing accidentally falls on his ass, as Sheff did at the end of For Real, but the fall ends up timing out so perfectly that it actually heightens the drama of the moment.

Hope they won some new fans this day. They deserve it.

The Gaslight Anthem

Hooked up with Nancy, Diane & Craig for last half of this set at Outdoor. They were really solid, though not quite as compelling as I anticipated given the charging, populist, Springsteen-styled nature of their material. Could have just been the come down from Okkervil.

On a completely silly note though, these are some big-ass dudes. In this, the ultimate decade of the 5'3" milquetoast nerd rocker, their height and blue collar physicality felt strikingly different.

Lupe Fiasco

Lupe was a mandatory for us, as my eleven-year-old son is a rap freak and Superstar is his favorite song at the moment. Sounded decent on the main stage, with a full backing band, but at times Lupe’s presence was eclipsed by a stronger-voiced supporting rapper.

Dutifully recorded Superstar on our FLIP camera, then caught an excellent version of Streets on Fire, possibly my favorite rap song of last year, on our way to beer tent.

Overall, a good but not great set.

Lykke Li

I raced over to Lykke for her last ten minutes, walking up right at the start of a charged version of Tonight.

Talk about emotional commitment to one’s material, this girl is intense!

Every individual syllable of her simple but compellingly arranged love songs wrench out of her like she’s undergoing a full body exorcism, and while I never thought her to be conventionally attractive, she has an undeniable sexual presence on stage. Following Tonight, she closed with a fine rendition of Dance, Dance, Dance.

Headed back to Main Stage beer tent to say good-bye to Diane and Nancy. They were leaving early to attend to life’s realities - namely our children - while Craig and I would remain in fantasy land until the last possible moment. Peter, Bjorn, and John hit Young Folks with Lykke Li singing the female lead right as we parted ways, then Craig and I headed over to the Outdoor Theater to catch one of the decade’s most unique artists…

Antony and the Johnsons

Some specifics for the unfamiliar, Antony isn’t your run of the mill recording artist - he/she is a full blown transvestite. I have no idea how far (s)he’s gone down the surgery/hormonal path, and given my straight white male mid-western upbringing, I doubt I’ll pursue information on that further, but what’s more important is this - get past any pre-conceptions you may have, or Antony’s own very unique personal point of view, and what you are left with is one of the truly singular singing voices in contemporary pop.

His last two albums are full of moments of overwhelming beauty, steered by that amazing voice, that while operatic in a stereotypically queeny way, never devolves into detached camp, instead always maintaining a raw, honest, intimate emotional link.

Unfortunately, that was not the Antony we would see on this day. I felt the mid-afternoon slot at the Outdoor Theater to be a very odd scheduling choice by Goldenvoice, thinking a late night set in the intimate Gobi would be better, and it appears Antony had the same reaction, for instead of delivering his songs in a caberet manner, he brought a long Matthew Herbert of Scale fame and reworked all his material to come up with, as he put it, “something spicier for a sunny day.”

Craig and I couldn’t go with it, leaving after two songs for the Murder City Devils. A shame, because…

Murder City Devils

Antony’s set ended up getting a ton of raves, and this would prove to be my least favorite set of the entire festival.

Nothing against these guys, I’m sure to fans of hardcore punk flavored with heavy metal leanings and a guttural lead singer, they’re budding superstars…but I don’t like hard-core punk, and there’s nothing I like less in rock n’ roll than guttural, heavy- metal-style singing.

So some, including Craig, may have loved these guys, they were definitely playing with conviction, but for me it was thirty excruciating minutes.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Started out the evening back at the main stage with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I was excited to see them, having heard so much about Karen O’s charisma live, though I have to admit, I’m a lukewarm fan of their recorded work at best. They've got some good songs, but they never knock me out.

They kicked off, predictably, with Zero from their latest. It was okay, not great. A so-so version of Gold Lion, and a strong performance Honeybear followed. They appeared to be warming up and getting better, but having already played two of my favorite tracks, and failing to really win over Craig, it wasn’t enough to convine us to skip all of X, with whom they were in complete schedule conflict.


And this proved to be one of the best moves we made all weekend, because X was fantastic.

Though now in their 50s, Exene and especially John Doe were still in great voice, and the band was simply tearing through their play list, which I would later learn they had let their fans select through an internet vote on their website. (But one quibble, how could any fan vote leave out The World’s A Mess, It’s In My Kiss.)

They closed with a rollicking take on Soul Kitchen and the crowd roared with approval, armed with the knowledge that they had just seen one of the weekend’s best sets.

Paul Weller

We hurried over to the Outdoor Theater to catch back half of Paul Weller’s set at sunset.

To the surprise of no one familiar with this thirty year veteran’s body of work, it was incredibly eclectic, each song a 180 degree shift for the one it preceded. More than any other artist at the fest, with the exception of possibly the Cure, whom festival management would be physically forced to pull the plug on a few hours later, Weller wanted to keep going and going, humorously joking between each song about how 50 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time.

Unfortunately, he might have been right, because other than a charming version of Sea Spray from his latest, nothing else stood out for me.

My Bloody Valentine

That would not be a problem here, in what would prove to be for me, the third best - and number one most memorable - set of the entire festival.

For those not in the know, My Bloody Valentine in British 90s band whose whole reputation, for better or worse, is based on one album, the arty, shoe-gaze masterpiece Loveless, now near universally considered one of the three best albums of the decade, alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind and Radiohead’s OK Computer.

But as I would learn, it ain’t called shoe gaze just because of the music.

This is a band that has raised non-interaction with the audience to an art form.

The band takes the stage, and guitarist Kevin Shield’s offers the bands only spoken words of the night, “Hello, Coachella people.” Then the band members take their positions, and…

…for the next hour and ten minutes, playing a set list culled heavily from Loveless, nobody moves.

I exaggerate a touch. Shields and female lead singer Bilinda Butcher take a couple even-keeled steps up to their microphones whenever it’s time to sing, then return dutifully at the same controlled pace to their starting positions, and the bassist plays with a funky side-to-side sway.

That’s it.

But the music sounds great, seriously loud, and though the band doesn’t move, the stage is alive. A massive video screen behind them projects all manner of stock ‘n trade psychedelic paisley blips, and the stage is over run with theatrical smoke. The side video screens keep cutting to a great low angle that hysterically maximizes the smallness and distance between these isolated players on the pulsating stage.

Things continue in this vein for about fifty minutes, and then midway through their last song, it hits, their concert closing tradition…

…the holocaust…

...everyone in the band locks in on one non-chord, and for the next (as close as we timed it) fifteen minutes…that’s all they play, while the volume increases louder and louder. The video screen locks in on Bilinda’s fret hand for a full minute. It never moves.

It’s gotten so loud, it’s like standing in the wash of a jet engine. Watching the crowd’s reactions is where it’s at now, and they break along demographic lines. White males stand with oddly satisfied smiles on their faces, as if they’re undergoing some fraternal right of passage. African-Americans seem to laugh to each other with good-natured bemusement at this arty nonsense. Hispanics and young white girls seem to take it the worst, pushing their hands to their ears with all their might, praying for it to stop.

It seems the entire festival has come to a standstill, fully immersed in the bands jet engine roar, and then, without ever so much as glancing at each other, the band jumps back into the closing song, brings it quickly to a close, and leaves the stage.

The Kills

Craig and I split briefly, him going straight to Public Enemy, me wanting to catch some of the Kills first. When I got there, the tent was packed. Much like Beirut, this is clearly an indie band with a growing, fervent following. And the band performed fine, knocking out excellent versions of U.R.A. Fever, No Wow, and Black Balloon, three of their best tracks, in the opening twenty minutes. Alison Mosshart, the female lead who’s now also singing with Jack White in the Dead Weather, is a compelling, gritty presence, with her seedy good looks and P.J. Harveyish voice, though I have to admit her incessant spitting on stage was a little much…after the fifth or sixth loogey, it was time to move on to…

Public Enemy

Where these guys were simply great, laying down grooves that felt beyond heavy. Believe it or not, given the confrontational nature of much of their music, these guys were extremely classy on this night, too. Gave a heartfelt shout out to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which they stated straight up is doing a better job preserving and celebrating the greats of twentieth century African-American music than their own communities.

Starting with a blistering rip through Channel Zero, through to a powerhouse close out with Fight the Power…there wasn’t a weak moment in the forty minutes that I caught.

The Cure

Sadly, that would be it for Craig and I. As much as I would have loved to stay for the Cure, we were spent and had a two-and-a-half hour drive home. We did pause to catch a fine rendition of Pictures of You, but then it was off to the car.

Coachella 2009 for us was now complete.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Coachella 2009 Review - Saturday Day Two

Saturday, sadly, was from a pure performance standpoint my least favorite day in the two years I have attended Coachella.

There probably were a number of great performances this day, but if so, I missed most of them. I guess, that’s the way it goes at these super fests…with all the multiple stages, at best you’re going to catch one-fourth of the overall action, and that’s if you never stop to eat or hit the port-o-potties. Sometimes, in retrospect, you’re going to chose wrong.

That said, no Coachella day is a complete disappointment. Here’s my rundown on Day Two.

Saturday’s Best Shows
1) Bob Mould
2) TV on the Radio
3) Michael Franti and Spearhead
4) Gang Gang Dance
5) Blitzen Trapper/Drive-By Truckers

Saturday’s Weakest Shows
1) M.I.A.
2) Fleet Foxes

Cloud Cult

After a nice breakfast with Craig and Diane, Nancy and I headed out early to make a full day of it. With the Killers headlining instead of McCartney, security lines early were non-existent. Grabbed a quick drink, and then headed over to Outdoor Theater for Cloud Cult.

They had a nice, string-oriented Arcade Fire-styled sound, and a unique stage gimmick where a painter that travels with them paints a picture as the band performs, but other than that, two months removed, not much else memorable about this set.

Bob Mould Band

As would happen Sunday with Okkervil River, one of the day’s very best sets was turned in really early, and in what would be a very clear trend for the entire festival, the most veteran acts routinely put most of the younger acts to shame, turning in many of the festivals strongest sets.

And this Gobi set was just fabulous, a no frills, hard-charging romp through a number of the best and most accessible songs from his solo, Husker Du, and Sugar canons. The Sugar songs, in particular, really impressed, and throughout, Mould seemed to be having the time of his life.

Joss Stone

In truth, Joss Stone deserves a little credit. She was clearly this year’s Jack Johnson, the artist indie fans/blogerratti most felt the need to bash in their pre-fest posts…but you can’t go wrong with a Motown feel, and ably supported by a fine set of back-up singers, the last two songs I caught from this set were really cooking. Nancy had skipped out of Mould earlier to catch more of this set and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Drive By-Truckers

This was my worst conflict of the day, DBTs and Blitzen Trapper going on almost simultaneously. Only caught first four songs from this set, including my favorite track off their latest, the Mike Cooley-led 3 Dimes Down…but was too far back and too involved in hooking up with Craig and Diane, who had just arrived, to really get a clear impression. Craig stuck around while I headed over to Blitzen and the girl’s to Paolo Nutini, and said the rest of the set was pretty great. Really wish I could have stuck this one out.

Blitzen Trapper

Caught the last four songs. First two I caught, the dark folk ballad, Black River Killer, and a lively send up of one of the uptempo numbers from Furr (Gold for Bread I think), came off so well I thought this might end up my favorite set of day.

But then they killed the mood with a drawn out rendition of psychedelic murk-rocker U-Luv which ate up most of their remaining time. So mixed bag here, but Black River came off so great they still make the best of list on strength of that performance alone.

Paolo Nutini

Hooked back up with the others at the Beer Tent between main stage and Outdoor Theater and angled towards Main Stage to catch tail end of Paolo Nutini. I know nothing about this guy, but he was roaring through a fantastic, lively cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s I Want To Take You Higher that made me want to learn more.

This also established another clear trend for the weekend. It seemed like every time I walked away from a so-so set, I’d catch the tail end of a set by some Latin Band I’d never heard of absolutely kicking ass.

Michael Franti & Spearhead

We stayed in the beer garden to chill for next hour…tried to catch some of Superchunk, but that awful Heineken Dance Tent was making such a racket, we could not hear them at all (Coachella needs to think seriously about losing/moving/quieting down this Dance Tent and the Do-Lab. When noise bleed comes from another act, that’s one thing, but when an act you’d like to hear is being drowned out by some two-bit local DJ, it’s a problem.)

Anyway, we moved to the other side of the Garden and caught the back-half of a wonderfully engaging set by Michael Franti & Spearhead. I’m not too familiar with his music, but the packed crowd was thoroughly enjoying themselves. A real late afternoon crowd pleaser.


Scrambled over to the outdoor as soon as Spearhead ended to grab a couple of songs from Calexico before my two most anticipated acts of the day, TV on the Radio and Fleet Foxes, took the stage. Got real lucky on personal level, in that they hit my favorite song of theirs, Man Made Lake off their latest release, in first two tracks. They nailed it, but couldn’t stay for more…we were all locked in on catching…

TV on the Radio

Like the Hold Steady on Friday, and Okkervil River, who would perform Sunday, I consider this band one of the truly elite recording artists of the last half decade. Unlike those artists, TV on the Radio’s highly produced sound strikes me as next to impossible to recreate live…and based on this show at least, that proved that to be true.

But they still kicked ass.

Notching up the volume on the bass and a brass section to a ridiculous level, their show was almost as poorly mixed as A Place To Bury Stranger’s the night before. But here, it totally worked. The band focused exclusively on their uptempo material, energetically diving into to spirited versions of Dancing Chose, Crying, Wolf Like Me, Red Dress, et. al., burying the crowd in wave after wave of relentless pulsing bass. You could barely hear the voices, you could barely hear the guitar, but there was just enough to stay with the songs, and the energy of this set, particularly during an amazing rendition of Wolf, was intoxicating.

Fleet Foxes

From full-on sonic annihilation to the gentlest of sounds with only seconds between sets, we raced over to Fleet Foxes at the Outdoor.

Area was already packed, so weren’t able to get too close. I’m a huge fan of their self-titled debut (less so of the Sun Giant EP), and thought going in that this had all the makings of one of the weekend’s top highlights, but a portentous comment by a friend I had run into earlier in the day at Mould would prove to be true. “I’m not so sure,” he said. “They’re good, but they’re awfully young.”

And that pretty much sums up the feel of this set.

They took the stage, and those voices, their calling card, sounded great. But like Vampire Weekend the year before, they were clearly overwhelmed by the size of the moment, and seem to still be working on their performing chops.

In short…they seemed terrified.

Brutal noise bleed from Thievery Corporation over on the main stage did little to help, and their set list sucked, spending the full opening ten minutes on inferior (i.e. non-Myknos) Sun Giant tracks before hitting anything from Fleet Foxes.

Mercifully, at least for them, they scampered off stage a full ten minutes early, though at the time I was enraged as hell that they had skipped out with time to spare before playing Blue Ridge Mountains, my favorite of all their tracks.

They put out a great record in 2008, but on stage, this band has some serious toughening up to do.

Thievery Corporation

Caught last ten minutes of this set. Just another propulsive Latin band kicking ass at the same time that an indie-darling of mine had just let me down.

Band of Horses

Only caught a few minutes here, sounded fine, though I’m not a huge fan. They can be pretty, but aside from Funeral, St. Augustine, Detlef Schrempf and one or two others, I think most of their songs are pretty pedestrian.


For two years running, my vote for worst set of entire festival.

Many will disagree with me, especially after she bailed out the fest after Winehouse went AWOL, but I hope it's a while before Coachella brings her back.

And I like her albums. I think she’s a true original, very in touch with the movement, and a smart conceptualist, but as a live performer, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

On stage, she’s an absolute non-talent…can’t sing, can’t really dance, doesn’t play anything, doesn’t have that likeable of a persona…so take away the neon, the dancers, the buckets, the agit-prop video background, the Stalinist Podium, and the third world rebel posturing, what are left with…someone who couldn’t hold the stage on a musical level for five seconds paired against just about any other performer at the festival.

Craig said it best about half way through the set when I asked if he wanted to skip over to catch then end of the Chemical Brothers. His replay, “I can,t. This has completely sucked the life out of me.”

Jenny Lewis

Case in point on my M.I.A. rant, only caught one song in this set, but it was a great one…solo acoustic guitar rendition of Silver Lining. Let’s see M.I.A. pull off something as basic but difficult as this.

The Killers

Not a huge fan, but do really like three or four of their tracks…didn’t stick around long enough to here any of them, but have to say…these guys were doing everything they could to live up to their headliner billing.

No embarrassment here, they acquitted themselves decently enough, but as McCartney proved the night before, the best weapon for a headlining stint is a seriously deep catalog of great songs.
That, these boys don’t got.

Gang Gang Dance

Final hour of Saturday pitted a number of intriguing acts against the Killers. Atmosphere with their mellow groove oriented rap was going at the Outdoor, Mastodon was tearing it up at the Mohave, and MSTRKRFT was holding down the Sahara, but I chose to go with these guys and was glad I did.

Just a luke-warm fan of their debut album, the material played great in the Gobi, where their mellow, trance dance tunes just kinda flowed and blended in a soothing, engaging wind down way. Rumor Kip Malone of TV on the Radio was in attendance, but didn’t see him, and with that, it was back to the hotel, day two officially complete (though did hear Killer’s All These Things I’ve Done and Jenny Was a Friend of Mine walking out).

2009 Coachella Review - Friday Day One

Well, more than a little late in getting this posted...but better late than never.

To the point, Coachella 2009 was another embarrassment of riches for southern California music fans.

In what I saw, it didn't hit the consistent peaks of 2008, even though the lineup going in appeared stronger on paper...but it still offered a number of wonderful sets, and with one show, possibly the best concert going experience of my entire life (one guess who that artist was).

Anyway, here's my two cents on the acts I did manage to catch Friday

Best Friday Shows:

1) Paul McCartney
2) Franz Ferdinand
3) The Black Keys
4) The Hold Steady
5) Cage The Elephant

Weakest Friday Shows:

1) The Courteeners
2) M. Ward
3) Ryan Bingham
4) A Place to Bury Strangers
5) Ting Tings (didn’t see, but Craig did and said it was worst he saw all festival)

Headed off from Valencia with my good friend Craig around 9:15.

Unlike last year, which was a full-on exercise in solo immersion, this would be a more social Coachella, with Craig and I heading up together for all three days, and my wife Nancy and Craig’s wife Diane joining us for Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.

After checking in at our Palm Springs hotel, and a surprisingly long security line (I’m telling you, every band on the Friday line-up benefited from Sir Paul’s presence…it seemed like every one of his fans got there at noon…none of this casually late cool kid nonsense for the old timers) grabbed a couple of beers and a slice of Pizza, chatted with a couple of very knowledgeable music industry publicists, and settled in for the first main stage act.

The Courteeners

Unfortunatley, have to say wasn't too impressed. Standard, anthem-oriented, Brit pop feel to their music, but in fairness to them, was still socialize and not paying too much attention.

Ryan Bingham

We headed over to Ryan Bingham midset in the Gobi next. He was throwing down some straight ahead honkey-tonk...sounded fine, and he was into it...but the couple songs we caught weren’t blowing us away…0 for 2 so it was off to...

The Aggrolites

And the first awesome set of the day.

Caught the last twenty minutes in the Mojave. I am not familiar with their recorded works, but they were a blast, laying down their "Dirty Reggae." Lead singer had a fine, gritty voice, and they closed with a wonderful cover of Peter Tosh's Walk On By.

Gui Boratto

I'm not a Sahara tent guy. I do buy a number of electronic dance albums each year, but I'm over forty, a horrendous dancer, I don't do X, and watching a DJ bopping up and down over his/her laptop just isn't my idea of a concert-going experience. Still, it was Craig's first time attending, and we wanted to check out the Sahara early in the day, as it is always the most crowded and least mangageable of the Coachella stages as the day progresses...Gui Boratto was performing at time, and while I wasn't familiar with his music, it did have a soothing, immersive vibe. Will probably pick up his latest this year.

Cage the Elephant

This is a band to watch. I don’t have their debut, and not sure about their songwriting chops, but the set from this young, garage act out of Tennessee was spirited, funky, raucous, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Their lead singer is very charismatic live, struck me as a cross between a skateboard punk and Mick Jagger. Best of the early first day acts.

The Airbourne Toxic Event

Typically, 4pm Friday is when Coachella starts bringing out the heavy hitters, and this year was no exception. In fact, 4-6 Friday was probably the worst batch of head-to-head conflicts of the festival, with Airbourne, Hold Steady, Los Campesinos, M. Ward, The Black Keys, Buraka Som Sistema and The Ting Tings all seriously overlapped.

Craig and I split for the next two hours, but we both started at the main stage for the beginning of Airbourne's set.

Though a new band with just one album and already backlash victims amongst the indie/blogosphere snoberatti due to the huge success of their single Sometime Around Midnight, their anthemy, angsty, slightly U2ish sound is a great fit for the main stage...big and emotionally direct. They opened, as I expected, with Wishing Well and did themselves proud. After that, I was off for other shows, but Craig stayed for the duration and ranked their set amongst his top five of the entire weekend.

The Hold Steady

To my tastes, this is one of the elite recording bands of the last half-decade, and they have a great live reputation. As such, having yet to see them live myself, this was a personal can't miss...and they didn't disappoint.

Roaring through a blitzkrieg of tracks from their last three records, every song in the set was a blast...but Sequestered in Memphis and Little Hoodrat Friend were the definite standouts.

Craig Finn’s physical appearance threw me a little. Based on his vocals persona, I was expecting a big, heavy set, menacing drunk. Instead, he comes off live like an enthusiastic film school nerd. No matter, he did great. I heard later he had been battling a cold, but you never would have known based on the show.

M. Ward

Stopped by for a few minutes at Outdoor Theater on way to Mainstage for the Black Keys. I've got his last two albums, as well as She and Him: Volume One, all of which I like but don't love, and felt the same about what I caught here. Sounded good, meticulously, tastefully arranged, but a tad safe and dull, just like his albums.

Also, I didn’t like his stage banter. It had a slightly patronizing, “I'm special, and you're not” quality to it that I found instantly off-putting. Probably knocking his set down a notch or two for this as much as anything.

The Black Keys

I'm far from a huge fan of the Keys on record...I usually love one or two cuts from each record, and their minimalist, bluesy sound is without question cool...but as songwriters, I find them very limited.

With that said, they were absolute monsters during the last half of their set. Visually, they were dwarfed by the main stage, but Dan Auerbach's guitar was so huge, and his solo lines so strong, it didn't matter. A fabulous, primal, head-tripping set.

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

Caught a few songs waiting to hook back up with Craig by the Hand of Man (this year’s favorite art installation), and have to say, these guys sounded great. Would have loved to have caught whole set closer up, but too big a conflict with...

Franz Ferdinand

Great set. Second favorite of Day One.

I've got all their albums, but had never seen Franz live. First thing that struck me is how completely Alex Kapranos dominates the band live.

The second thing that struck me is what a top notch live performer Kapranos is...big voice, fine guitar work, charismatic front man.

And the third thing that struck me is how much fun their music is live...nothing but energy, propulsion and hooks. A failed attempt to initiate a sing-along to the mellow “na na na na” chorus from 40 is my one quibble, but that aside, a fantastic way to start off the 1st evening.

Pangs of regret though, Nancy and Diane had been late to get off, and were now caught in brutal traffic. This is a set she had hoped to catch and would have absolutely loved.

Leonard Cohen

A bit of hipster sacrilege here. Wanted to get into this, but Cohen is primarily considered a songwriter for good reason, his ocean-deep baritone is a really limited instrument. Caught opening two songs of sounded fine, backing vocals were excellent...but at moment Craig and I just weren't in the mood to ride this one out. So we bailed on an all-time master in order to see...


…Pickle-headed aliens and orange-haired, green-body-painted dancers.

For the unfamiliar, N.A.S.A. is a fun, party-dance D.J. act who perform with an entourage of costumed, almost muppet-like dancers. Again, it felt like sacrilege to be skipping Cohen to sit in on this, but it was also brilliant counter programming and ridiculously entertaining in a shamelessly low-tech way. Couldn’t tell you one thing I remember about the music, but if you ask me, I can still describe each of their costumed alien dancers in vivid detail.

Ghostland Observatory

Had time to kill before Beirut, so snuck in mid-Sahara for five minutes of this set. Light show seemed really wild, musical vibe was as if Rush’s Geddy Lee decided to front a moody electronica act. Crowd was totally into it, but nothing like what was to come next.


Weirdest vibe of entire festival.

The band sounded fine, playing crisp, clean versions of all their biggest tracks. But in a reworking of the famous Churchill line, never have so few done so little to earn the adulation of so many.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this band and their swirling faux gypsy/balkan sound, I love Zach Condon’s voice, and I think he is a true genius when it comes to horn lines…but let’s be honest, he’s also one of the lamest lyricist on the present day circuit, and he and his band can hardly be accused of “bringing it,” live with their static, disengaged Cars-like stage presence and snotty banter (complaints about noise bleed from other stages).

But damn if the crowd here wasn’t roaring at the start of every horn passage as if this were the Beatles kicking off I Want To Hold Your Hand circa 1964, making it difficult to process the only thing that matters when it comes to listening to Beirut…the music.

A surreal experience. Guess they’re more broadly popular than I thought.

A Place to Bury Strangers

A big, big disappointment.

I’m a fan of their debut album, it’s got a number of excellent shoe gazey/Jesus and Mary Chain-styled songs, and with so few non-metal bands really rocking hard these days, was ready for an adrenaline rush. But while their claims of being the New York’s loudest band proved warranted, I found the extreme volume to be neither exciting, rebellious, subversive or edgy, but, in the ultimate disgrace for a leather-clad, New York-based band, simply silly.

Their amped guitar completely drowned out everything else until all sense of instrumental or structural detail was lost, leaving one with a lite, full-concert-length version of My Bloody Valenite’s holocaust, which even that ultra-edgy band has the sense to only employ as a “experiential” closer to their otherwise clearly mixed sets.

Paul McCartney

Nancy and Diane finally arrive before Macca goes on. Craig and I have left Strangers early to hook up, and can still hear them all the way from their perch in the Gobi to our present spot in the main stage beer tent. Truly New York’s loudest band.

Macca takes the stage with little fanfare while we’re still finishing our beers, opens with a weak version of Jet, then a just okay version of Drive My Car, and some Fireman song I’ve never heard.

“Uh oh,” I think. After having been present at Prince’s and Roger Water’s insanely great headliner sets the year before, there’s only one thought going through my head. “This might turn into a disaster.”

Never in my concert going life have I been so wrong.

Sir Paul is 66. What I took as a lackluster stage presence was simply an older man needed a little time to warm up. Things kick off around the 7th song, when Paul takes the piano for a beautiful version of The Long and Winding Road. Then he breaks it to the audience…it’s the eleventh anniversary of Linda’s death, and he thought long and hard before agreeing to perform on this night. With that, he kicks into a heartfelt version of My Love, and from this point on, he and his band can do no wrong.

For the remaining two hours, I am completely in the moment.

I can’t believe how great the band sounds.

I can’t believe I’m getting a chance to see a Beatle live.

I can’t believe how great it feels to share this with Nancy.

I can’t stop smiling every time the video screen cuts to McCartney’s drummer, an intimidating giant of a man who looks like a cross between a sumo wrestler and Suge Knight, but who’s aggressive enthusiasm and absolute dedication to this material is positively infectious.

The songs sound totally familiar, and yet, abetted by this gifted set of musicians and the superb Coachella main stage sound system, also sound totally contemporary.

The uptempo numbers really surprise, Paperback Writer, Get Back, Back In The U.S.S.R, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Live and Let Die, etc., rocking as hard as anything we will see all week. The quieter numbers prove moving and communal (Hey Jude just keeps getting better and better the more people you add to the sing along)…and on and on it goes, a full hour past the midnight curfew, through seven encore tracks and too many classic Beatles songs to count, finally closing, fittingly, with a medley of Sgt. Peppers Reprise flowing into The End from Abbey Road. Macca and his two guitarists stretch out the “Love You” riff exchange that comes near the close of The End for what seems like a full three minutes, building to an unbelievable crescendo, and then, bam, the final line, and it’s over.

Coachella peaked early in 2009, unlike 2008, which was far more balanced, nothing in the two days to follow will come anywhere close to matching the communal joy of this set, but it doesn’t matter. This performance has been worth the full 3-day $300.00 admission price alone.

Best concert I have ever seen.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Daily Listenings - 06.22.09

Replacement's Please To Meet Me & first disc of Nine Inch Nails Ghosts this morning. Used to think Please was Replacement's second best after Let It Be, but didn't sound all that great today, thinking Tim may have surpassed it in staying power.

Delta Spirit's '08 release and new Kings of Leon during commute. Loving Trash Can and Street Walker off of Delta Spirit, definitely see those songs making the year end mixes. 3rd listen on Only By The's definitely stronger, more focused overall than Because of the Times, but still not that into it.

Grizzly Bear's Vekatimest tonight for very first time. Clearly one of those super dense, multi-layered beasts that's going to take five-plus listens to get a handle on, but first impression not that great...I like fluidity, their style is very clunky, Pet Sounds influence vocals crossed with that choppy, momentum-killing Big Star/Teenage Fanclub sense of rhythm. Main thoughts going through my head at moment are I may end up liking this one, possibly a lot, but Grizzly Bear very well may be the wimpiest band in the history of rock. Simon and Garfunkel, Scritti Politti, Beirut, Death Cab for Cutie, Kenny Loggins, Brian Wilson, Solo McCartney, Architecture in Helsinki, Eric Carmen, Fleet Foxes, Keane, Belle & Sebastian, Animal Collective...I don't think any of these milquetoasts can claim an album as testosterone deprived as Vekatimest.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Daily Listenings - 06.09.09

Yeah Yeah Yeah's It's Blitz, Fucked Up's The Chemistry of Common Life, Girl Talk's Feed the Animals, Fennesz's Black Sea over last couple days.

Like, don't love, new YYYs...interesting band with a great drummer, cool Pretenderish sound and very charismatic front woman, but have never felt they've got a whole lot of consistency in the songwriting department.

Three listens in on Chemistry now, just can't see myself ever coming around to it, just dislike guttural, metal-style singing too much.

Animals going to be hard to rate, one of those albums where individual tracks play much better in a mix of other artists tunes than back to back.

Black Sea electronic, experimental...many listens to go before that one sinks in.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Daily Listenings - 06.03.09

Nostalgia for my mid-eighties college days as Housemartin's London 0 Hull 4 started off the day.

Back half of Lykke Li's Youth Novels, Calexico's Carried to Dust, and front half of M. Ward's Hold Time on today's commute. Love third/fourth listens...always seems to be the time when an album's identity really starts to emerge. Calexico sounding much stronger than first impression...aside from opener and title track, Hold Time still hasn't won me over.

Selects from Devendra Banhart's Cripple Crow and Island's Arm's Way in evening. Know a lot of Unicorns fans in particular are not too happy with Arm's Way, but I thought extra guitar muscle of it's songs played well at last year's Coachella. Just getting started on this one, very proggy, but initial sense is it's well crafted...looking forward to getting it into car rotation.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Daily Listenings - 06.02.09

At some point, I'm going to have to set down my ridiculously anal listening system that I use to plow through about 125 new albums a year.

For now, though, just some thoughts on what I caught today.

Still working through backlog of 2008 releases, will probably continue at least through September, which sucks, because 2009 seems to be positively exploding...can't remember last time Metacritic had so many 80 plus current titles in the sort by score column.

Laura Marling's Alas, I Cannot Swim for breakfast...probably will end up getting a Solid, but damn, how old is this girl...18? Impressive.

Back half of Paul Weller's 22 Dreams, Franz Ferdinand's new one, and front third of Lykke Li's Youth Novels during commutes. 3rd listen for all three, all also feeling like Solid's, with Novels the most interesting, and well...novel in it's best moments. Tonight definitely feeling like the weakest of Franz's three releases, though still a number of solid to excellent tracks. Dreams very eclectic, but Weller's always struck me as Jack-of-all-trades-Master-of-none type, and this album supports that...a vast array of decent to good tracks, but only a couple even knocking on excellence's door.

Why's Alopecia tonight doing the dishes...another solid overall, not crazy about their rap songs, but best four/five pop tracks on this one...Fatalist Palmistry, The Hollows, These Few Presidents, The Vowels Pt. 2, Torpedo's and Crohn...all fantastic. Such a winning, quirky sound.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hendrix, The Book of Lists, and a Paycheck

For every hardcore rock n’ roll fan, there is, I believe, a moment. A breakthrough moment where our relationship with popular music changes…from that of a passive receiver of the narrow band of options commercial radio, and in today’s world…Simon Cowell can offer, to that of an active, relentless seeker of artists, styles, and past eras to inspire us.

For me, that moment occurred in the summer of 1981.

Fifteen at the time, rock was already a regular part of my life, but my own music collection was limited to LPs by a few of the popular AM rock bands of the day (Kiss, Boston, Styx, Foreigner, Kansas, Cheap Trick, AC/DC) and the occasional 60s greatest hits package (The Beatles 62-66 and 67-70 collections were must owns amongst my peers, as were Hot Rocks, Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, and Led Zeppelin 4). Beyond that, any chance for further enlightenment came almost exclusively from those Memorial Day countdowns that were all the rage in the late 70s/early 80s.

It was on one of these countdowns in 1981 that I heard Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze for the first time.

“Now this,” I thought, “is cool!”

Within a week, Jimi’s Smash Hits was on the turntable, and I was on my way..

Two months later, my family took a week long vacation at a resort on the north shore of Kauai. I know, sounds great…but there were no kids there my age, the pool was smaller than that at your garden variety Holiday Inn, and the beach, though gorgeous, was rocky and not too swimmable. Aside from losing to my more athletic younger brother on one of fifteen tennis courts, there was nothing to do.

Then, one day, I wandered into the resort’s gift shop, and stumbled upon The Book of Lists 2. And inside, there was this excerpt from a 1977 poll by rock critic Paul Gambacinni.

The 20 Greatest Albums in Rock n’ Roll
1. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
2. Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
3. Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan
4. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison
5. Rubber Soul – The Beatles
6. Revolver – The Beatles
7. Exile on Main Street – The Rolling Stones
8. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones
9. Abbey Road – The Beatles
10. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
11. The Sun Collection – Elvis Presley
12. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
13. The Band
14. The Velvet Underground and Nico
15. Layla, and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos
16. Forever Changes – Love
17. Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix
18. The White Album – The Beatles
19. Who’s Next – The Who
20. Legend – Buddy Holly

Hmm, I thought. I loved every artist on this list that I knew, and I’d heard rumblings about this Springsteen guy, but I had yet to give any of these original releases a listen…and who was this Van Morrison dude, or the Band, or Love, or Derek and the Dominos, or The Velvet Underground?

And that was pretty much it. Not long after that vacation, I landed a job at a Burger King next door to a Tower Records, and armed with the Gambacinni list and a recently purchased copy of The 1978 Rolling Stone Record Guide…my music world exploded.

Each paycheck became a license to pilfer Tower Records 4 for $20 bin, to which almost all of these phenomenal titles had already been demoted. Pricing in a record store…I quickly learned…was not based on quality.

In one year, I went from owning a record collection highlighted by Double Vision, Point of No Return, Live at Budokon and Pieces of Eight to one that included most of the titles above, as well as top releases from Graham Parker, Mott the Hoople, The Doors, Captain Beefheart, Spirit, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Tim Buckley, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Santana, David Bowie, Procul Harum, all the Motown greats, Chuck Berry, Sly and the Family Stone, the Byrds, the Animals, the Rascals, the Amboy Dukes, the Bobby Fuller Four, the Hollies, the Turtles, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, and the Stooges.

To my friends’ sometimes astonishment…and to my parents’ and wife’s sometimes chagrin…this comprehensive, obsessive approach has continued, unabated, for the last twenty-eight years. From the New Wave 80s through the Nihilistic 90s to the Nerd-and-Hip-Hop-Dominated ‘Oughts, I’ve been listening. And now, I’d like to share some thoughts on what I have enjoyed.

While I hope any random web surfer will find some value in my posts, my aim is really targeted at two specific audiences…older rock n’ roll fans who would love to stay up on the best in current music but can no longer make the time …and young hardcore fans, just getting started, who wouldn’t mind a guiding hand to point them towards some of the best of what’s come before.

Obviously, I have my own biases…fans of modern metal or American Idol-style mainstream pop won’t find much to their tastes here…but I do listen to, and will profile works from, just about every other genre that falls under the broad rock n’ roll spectrum.

I hope you enjoy.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Enough Stalling, Let's Get This Thing Started...

Okay, Rock n' Roll friends...

I've put off getting this thing going long enough.

Will try to start getting serious content up by end of Memorial Day Weekend.

Cheesy statement of purpose for web surfers that don't know me from Adam to come first, then Coachella 2009 review, then more detailed analyis of 2008 albums and mixes with printable playlists.

Hope you enjoy,